name of Franz Krommer is one of those that will be
familiar to players of wind instruments, but possibly entirely
unknown to other music-lovers. As you can see, he was born
around the same time as Mozart, but lived on into the 19th
century, beyond the death of Beethoven. Czech by birth, he
was a violinist, and held a number of court positions, mostly
in Vienna, composing instrumental music for a wide range of media.
He became celebrated in his later years, and was regarded
as a credible rival to Beethoven.
that judgement seems a little quaint; but don’t underestimate
Krommer. The octet-serenade that begins this delightful
disc from the Chamber Orchestra of Europe is ample proof that
he was a real creative force. The medium of wind octet –
pairs of oboes, clarinets, bassoons and horns, underpinned
in this performance by a string bass – was a highly popular
one around the turn of the century in Vienna. Mozart wrote a number of works for it, including two masterpieces,
while Beethoven also composed one, with the misleadingly late
opus number of 103 – actually written when he was a teenager.
played in or directed several of Krommer’s octets, and it’s
fair to say that they are highly variable in quality. The
one that begins this disc, however, is a particularly fine
example. It’s witty, inventive and melodious, with a wonderful
sense of the solo and ensemble potentials of the medium.
The first movement is a fully-fledged sonata-allegro,
with a fanfare-like first subject and a smoother second theme.
For me, though, it’s the bridge between the two that is most
engaging – a sudden burst of furious staccato in bassoons,
with throbbing off-beat chords above, reminding us that Turkish
music was all the rage in Vienna around this time.
Menuetto that follows is another delight; Krommer plays
around with a simple tonic-dominant figure, which is then
carried over into the calmer waters of the trio, causing entertaining
little rhythmic ripples whenever it crops up. The Adagio
is an expressive slow movement in the minor key, touching
on darker emotions, while the finale is a mischievous Alla
polacca. Here, as everywhere on this disc, the playing
of the Chamber Orchestra of Europe Wind Soloists is pure joy,
clean as a whistle, yet missing none of the fun and sparkle
of the music. Some of the writing for oboe and horn is quite
fiendish, yet is thrown off by Douglas Boyd and Jonathan Williams
with carefree panache.
one Czech master to another – or to be precise a Moravian
in the case of Leoš Janáček. Best known perhaps as an opera
composer, Janáček nonetheless composed a many fine instrumental
works, of which Mládí is one of the most charming and
characteristic. The title means ‘Youth’, a little ironic
when we realise that the composer was entering his seventies
when he wrote it, and within a few years of his death. But,
like all Janáček’s late music, it has incredible energy
and inventiveness, and there’s nothing else quite like it
in the repertoire of wind chamber music. The line-up is unusual;
basically a ‘classical’ wind quintet of flute, oboe, clarinet,
horn and bassoon, with the addition of the bass clarinet.
This has the great advantage of both reinforcing the bass
line and allowing the bassoon greater freedom to explore its
glorious high register. And Janáček exploits wonderful
mixed colours too, such as the slightly sinister unison of
bassoon and bass clarinet at the start of the Andante sostenuto.
There may be those who would prefer a more ‘earthy’ reading
than this; for me, it is quite simply the most wholly convincing
recording of the work I have yet heard, disciplined in ensemble
yet fully capturing the inherent wildness of the music.
very interesting to move on to the Serenade for wind sextet
of Hungarian Mátyás Seiber, for the opening theme has
an uncanny resemblance to that of Mládí, even more
striking when on considers it was written just a year after
the Janáček. The close resemblance ends there, however,
even though the composers do have a great deal in common stylistically.
The Seiber is a rather darker piece, with a language very
much drawn from Hungarian folk idioms. Like Mládí,
though, it is superbly conceived for its ensemble, and the
absence of oboe tone, so prominent in the other works on the
disc, makes it a good foil.
Hummel Octet-Partita is a very close relation
to those of Krommer. Hummel, however, wrote just the one
work in this genre – but it’s a cracker! I must direct you
to the second theme of the first movement – track 12 around
0:43 – for an example of the wit and élan of this scrumptious
piece. Perhaps the finale is weak compared to the other two
movements, but the octet is well worth the effort if you haven’t
come across it before. The notes point out, correctly, that
Hummel originally underpinned the bass line with a serpent.
They then go on to comment that this recording wisely
substitutes a double bassoon. This is the sort of thing that
makes you wonder if the people who write these notes actually
listen to the recordings; there is no double-bassoon, but
a double-bass instead. It’s not difficult to spot, particularly
as it’s rare to hear a double bassoon played pizzicato.
disc is nicely rounded off by three of Dvořák’s
Slavonic Dances, arranged for wind ensemble by Patrick Clementi;
why isn’t he credited in the schedule of works? Great fun,
but it would have been even better if there had been a slower
dance to provide contrast with these three rather rumbustious
this is a truly outstanding disc, another happy addition to
the list of recent reissues of the CoE’s recordings. I just
wish they’d tell us a little more about ‘where and when’,